CONCACAF World Cup Qualifying Hexagonal Preview

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JACKSONVILLE, FL - SEPTEMBER 06: Sacha Kljestan #16 of the United States (R) is congratulated by Christian Pulisic #10 and Fabian Johnson #23 following a goal during the FIFA 2018 World Cup Qualifier against Trinidad &Tobago at EverBank Field on September 6, 2016 in Jacksonville, Florida. (Photo by Sam Greenwood/Getty Images)

With the third round of CONCACAF World Cup Qualifying in the books, we can move on to the best part of the tournament: the Hexagonal, or simply the Hex.

Six sides enter, three and and half leave with a spot in the World Cup in Russia. The top three finishers automatically qualify for the most important tournament on Earth while the fourth place team will have to take on an Asian side in a two legged playoff.

The six sides that will duke it out over the next year or so are Mexico, Honduras, Costa Rica, Panama, Trinidad and Tobago, and the United States.

CONCACAF World Cup Qualifying Hexagonal Preview

Mexico

El Tri haven’t skipped a beat since dominating the Gold Cup last summer. They cruised through this round of qualifying without any trouble at all. They finished atop their group with eight points between them and their nearest competitor. They will have little or no trouble making it through to the World Cup without the need for a playoff against a nation from the other side of the world like last cycle.

Their biggest challenge will be straight away at the USA, likely in Columbus. Their run of form in the Ohio capital is littered with “dos a cero” losses to their rivals from north of the border. Other than that match, it should be a straight forward run of winning at Estadio Azteca and grabbing draws on the road.

Mexico’s Hex Schedule:

Nov. 11, 2016: @ USA
Nov. 15, 2016: @ Panama
Mar. 24, 2017: vs. Costa Rica
Mar. 28, 2017: @ Trinidad & Tobago
Jun. 9, 2017: vs. Honduras
Jun. 13, 2017: vs. USA
Sep. 1, 2017: vs. Panama
Sep. 5, 2017: @ Costa Rica
Oct. 6, 2017: vs. Trinidad & Tobago
Oct. 10, 2017: @ Honduras

Honduras

Honduras isn’t a regular at the World Cup, although they did make it last time around in Brazil. They have yet to win a game on the grand stage. They will face some challenges in their quest to make it to Russia. Wins at home will be big, as a trip to Central America is tough for even the confederation’s best. In order to qualify, they will have to earn wins at Trinidad & Tobago and Panama while praying they don’t lost too badly in Mexico or the USA.

Honduras’s Hex Schedule:

Nov. 11, 2016: vs. Panama
Nov. 15, 2016: va. Trinidad & Tobago
Mar. 24, 2017: @ USA
Mar. 28, 2017: vs. Costa Rica
Jun. 9, 2017: @ Mexico
Jun. 13, 2017: @ Panama
Sep. 1, 2017: @ Trinidad & Tobago
Sep. 5, 2017: vs. USA
Oct. 6, 2017: @ Costa Rica
Oct. 10, 2017: vs. Mexico

Costa Rica

Los Ticos were CONCACAF’s big surprise back in 2014 and they are hoping to repeat that quarterfinal run again. Like just about every other nation, winning on the road will be their major test, and with trips to Mexico and Honduras in the first four weeks, getting those road points early could be critical.

Costa Rica’s Hex Schedule

Nov. 11, 2016: @ Trinidad & Tobago
Nov. 15, 2016: vs. USA
Mar. 24, 2017: @ Mexico
Mar. 28, 2017: @ Honduras
Jun. 9, 2017: vs. Panama
Jun. 13, 2017: vs. Trinidad & Tobago
Sep. 1, 2017: @ USA
Sep. 5, 2017: vs. Mexico
Oct. 6, 2017: vs. Honduras
Oct. 10, 2017: @ Panama

Panama

Panama skated through their third round with relative ease. They had a six point buffer between them and Haiti and Jamaica, who both tested themselves inĀ Copa America Centenario this summer. With their strong backbone of MLS forwards and midfielders, Panama has a side that is quite well adjusted to the CONCACAF lifestyle. They could get off to a strong start. A trip to Honduras can be tricky, but home points against the USA and Mexico in the first four weeks may not be too much to ask for. If they can get those crucial draws (or better), they might be able to hold out when they face those sides on the road towards the end of the round.

Panama’s Hex Schedule

Nov. 11, 2016: @ Honduras
Nov. 15, 2016: vs. Mexico
Mar. 24, 2017: @ Trinidad & Tobago
Mar. 28, 2017: vs. USA
Jun. 9, 2017: @ Costa Rica
Jun. 13, 2017: vs. Honduras
Sep. 1, 2017: @ Mexico
Sep. 5, 2017: vs. Trinidad & Tobago
Oct. 6, 2017: @ USA
Oct. 10, 2017: vs. Costa Rica

Trinidad & Tobago

Trinidad & Tobago are on the rise. They were in the lead of their qualifying group right up until their blowout loss to the USA in Jacksonville on Tuesday night. They held out for a draw against he Americans at home a year ago and cruised right through the rest of the group. Things get a little trickier this time around, though. They will have to head to Estadio Azteca to face Mexico, the other CONCACAF giant. They will need to get through Costa Rica, who are ranked above the USA right now in the FIFA Rankings. The other midlevel CONCACAF squads are also nothing to sneeze at. It’s going to be a tricky run for this small island nation, and I am not sure they are quite up to the task.

Trinidad & Tobago’s Hex Schedule

Nov. 11, 2016: vs. Costa Rica
Nov. 15, 2016: @ Honduras
Mar. 24, 2017: vs. Panama
Mar. 28, 2017: vs. Mexico
Jun. 9, 2017: @ USA
Jun. 13, 2017: @ Costa Rica
Sep. 1, 2017: vs. Honduras
Sep. 5, 2017: @ Panama
Oct. 6, 2017: @ Mexico
Oct. 10, 2017: vs. USA

United States

The USA may have hit a couple bumps in the middle of their qualifying campaign, but in the end, the blasted their way to their rightful position atop the group. After the disappointing loss at Guatemala, fans had to be talked off the ledge as this team was in the middle of a bad run. They rebounded nicely with a fourth place finish at Copa America and two easy wins to get them into the Hex.

They will face a tough first two weeks, but a win at home against Mexico (probably in Columbus, home of dos a cero) and a point at Costa Rica isn’t too much to ask. If they pick up their home wins, as they should, a likely defeat at Estadio Azteca will not derail their campaign much at all.

USA’s Hex Schedule

Nov. 11, 2016: vs. Mexico
Nov. 15, 2016: @ Costa Rica
Mar. 24, 2017: vs. Honduras
Mar. 28, 2017: @ Panama
Jun. 9, 2017: vs. Trinidad & Tobago
Jun. 13, 2017: @ Mexico
Sep. 1, 2017: vs. Costa Rica
Sep. 5, 2017: @ Honduras
Oct. 6, 2017: vs. Panama
Oct. 10, 2017: @ Trinidad & Tobago

Prediction

I hope I don’t sound too confident when I say the USA and Mexico should be locks for the top two spots in their group. Both nations are rounding into form at a great time for this tournament and should make it through this field without much difficulty. The real battle will be for third and fourth place. Costa Rica is the leaders there, having likely the most talented side outside the two powers. Taking fourth, and earning the right to play an Asian side in a playoff, will be Panama. Their young talent should be enough to see this Hex through.

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